• Four Reasons I Went Back to School to Be a
    Family Doctor

    Feb. 5, 2024

    By Taree Chadwick
    Student Member of the AAFP Board of Directors

    I was 27, working in Chicago at Blue Man Group and dressed in all black. I would sit there, amidst the cheers of the crowd, watching the performers do their magic. Despite being in a theater crowded with hundreds of people, I sometimes felt oddly alone. In those moments, I realized I might want something different from life.

    Both of my parents work in the theater industry, and I grew up in a world that revolved around stages, sets, lights and costumes. After graduating from Columbia College in 2010 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater production, I worked as a stage manager for several production companies for five years in and around Chicago. I loved everything about the theater. I loved the idea of listening to a story and watching it come to life, working in a team, communicating, problem solving creatively and feeding my artistic brain. But after years of living and breathing theater, I still felt a void.

    Here are four reasons why I went back to school to become a family physician.

    Taree Chadwick enjoyed working as a stage manager for Blue Man Group, but she longed for the deeper connections with people that she saw in family medicine.

    Reason One: Intimate Human Connection

    Standing backstage, blocked from the audience by an entire stage and performers, theater never gave me the intimate human connection I was missing. I never got to hold a person’s hand and watch their face while delivering bad or good news. I never got to intimately know the audience.

    In medicine, that is what we do day after day: Work through problems with a patient, get to know everything about them, listen to their concerns, secrets and questions. The relationship between a physician and their patient is unparalleled in its intimacy.

    Reason Two: Constant Growth, Problem Solving, Teamwork, Community

    While working at Blue Man Group and pondering what path my career should go down, I was able to explore many different routes to what could possibly fill that void. I volunteered, I took some community college classes and I shadowed. I had the life-changing opportunity to shadow a rural family physician in West Virginia and saw the direct impact he had on his entire community. He was trusted by everyone and became a part of their families. He was making house calls, treating entire families and figuring out how to address every complaint of the people who walked through his door.

    As the only doctor in town, he formed a special relationship with his entire community. Family physicians are uniquely situated to make impacts such as this. We are the front lines. And because we do a little bit of everything, which requires constant growth and learning, family medicine requires creative problem solving by us, our whole team and our network of colleagues.

    This physician showed me how family medicine can connect everything I loved about the theater — problem solving, teamwork and community with that intimate human connection I needed.

    Reason Three: Service, Mentoring and Leadership

    Now that I had a clear direction — family medicine — the hard work began. Returning to school after years away was not easy. Learning to be a student of medicine is not easy. But as I went from the grind of organic chemistry and physics to applying to medical school to attending medical school, I was able to experience many different sides of what family medicine truly is.

    One of the things I love about this specialty is the way in which we use our voices to serve the underserved, mentor and become leaders. Family medicine wasn’t just clinic visits and refilling medications, it was seeing disparities in health care and knowing I could do something about them. It was seeing other medical students and premed students struggle and knowing I could do something about that. It was seeing how much impact a family physician can have on policy and legislation, and then using my voice to make a difference.

    Family physicians have numerous opportunities to advocate for equitable care and serve populations lacking access or those historically overlooked by the health care system. Family physicians do this every day, sitting down with patients one on one and listening to them, and fighting for them and alongside them. But we also do this in other spaces; we can do this by heeding calls to action and participating in conversations at our local, state, or federal levels.

    We also can create spaces for voices that are typically underrepresented so they can sit at the table and be heard. We can open doors for people coming behind us and mentor them to make sure they know they belong.

    Taree Chadwick, a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, School of Medicine, speaks at the 2023 National Congress of Student Members, where she was elected student member of the AAFP Board of Directors.

    Reason Four: My Big Why

    In a somewhat clichéd manner, I realized I want to leave this world knowing I made a significant impact on someone else’s life. Connecting with patients during their clinic visits, delving into who they are while discussing their journey to a healthier life, is what fulfills me.

    Family medicine, with its variety of challenges and the unpredictability of each patient’s case, continues to fuel my passion for learning and prevents burnout. Listening to patients from historically marginalized populations and finding ways to amplify their voices with equity and cultural humility is what fuels my commitment.

    My transition from theater to medicine might seem like a bold and risky move. However, it was a leap that felt right and aligned with my passion. I left a career that provided a stable income, dived further into student debt, and dedicated my late 20s and early 30s to school once again. Looking back, I would choose this path repeatedly.

    For those thinking they lack the time or resources for such a change, I say if your “why” is strong enough, you can and will overcome any obstacle. All challenges have solutions. Even for those whose journeys differ from mine and who always knew medicine was your calling, find your “why.” In challenging times, remind yourself why you chose your path and let that be your compass.



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